Welcome to my new favourite trail in the Berg. Yup, I know it’s probably ancient news to all you lucky KZN crankers, but this was the first time in a few years that I got to free-ride those Bergville slopes, and I have to admit to succumbing to a mild case of ‘kid in a candy store syndrome’.
I got wind of Sungubala via the N3 Gateway web site (www.n3gateway.co.za) and I right away thought it sounded like the perfect family getaway. I mean, equal parts rustic, rustig and scenic, with just enough mod cons to keep you comfortable and, of course, panoramic views to die for.
This unique little getaway pitches itself as an ‘Eco Camp’, with a smattering of comfortable thatched rondawels and a communal lounge cum kitchen, but is surprisingly well appointed and neat as a pin. The location – on a secluded mountain farm in the northern Drakensberg – means you’re dealt eye-popping views and an endless supply of sub-alpine oxygen.
And then we’ve not even got around to mentioning the corresponding trail stoke, have we? Whoo Boy … as Sungubala is situated centrally within 500ha of pristine Berg wilderness unfolding within the shadows of Hlolela and Sungubala peaks, you’re bound to get utterly trail bedonnerd here.
Venture beyond the farm boundary and life gets even better, as you now enter thousands of hectares of conserved wilderness, all part of the celebrated Greater uKhahlamba World Heritage Site. This protected area belongs to fourteen private landowners, who have in turn given Chris Mecklenborg the go-ahead to create a network of MTB trails here.
These kickass All Out Adventures mountain biking routes are accessible right from your front door if you stay at Sungubala, plus they score bonus points for their top-class coffee and a whole bunch of family-friendly adventure activities. But more about this adrenaline rush a bit later …
Back at the Eco Camp, non-riders have access to incredible trails, with daily guided hikes allowing them to explore the amazing surrounds. The routes link to an extensive hiking trail system, as well as one of the premier horseback riding experience with local operators Northern Horse (www.drakensberghorseriding.co.za).
And if you’re keen to saddle up your iron steed, read on for the low-down on these kiff MTB trails …
Let’s crank off right from Sungubala to begin your exploration of them thar hills … You’re pretty high up, so there’s a steep downhill to star with at least. Enjoy the rutty dual-track as you blast down into the valley, past the stunning little primary school (3.9km).
You have the option of continuing left for 8km to ALL OUT ADVENTURES (this is where you need to get your riding permit). If you’ve planned ahead, you’ll already have this sorted, which means you can immediately head onto the single-track heaven.
Look out for the MTB signposts about 40m after you’ve turned left at the school, and pop over the road, keeping right on the Red Route up towards The Cavern. A kilometre or so of windy-windy gets you to the boom gate (4.8km) at this well-known Berg Resort; keep on climbing along a steep and pretty rugged track towards the high-lying peaks.
The Red Route – also known as the Grotto Trail – is all pretty well sign-posted where it traverses to the left below the prominent Camel’s Hump. You level out onto the contour section around 7km into the ride, passing through glorious Berg fynbos at approximately 1500m above sea level.
A few wooden bridges lie in wait as you approach Du Toits Downhill (12km); keep right here as you head onto a grassy plateau, before red-lining down Trilby’s Descent and onto the Mont Aux Sources Hotel (16.8km). Arguably the most technical section of the trail awaits as you drop down into the Tugela River gorge along some sketchy and eroded single-track and then onto the Tugela Flats (19.2km).
Tugela Traction is an ascent with a proper bite, with some respite along the tar road past Hlalanathi, but you’re back onto a single-track ascent minutes later. This easy riding section levels out before dropping back into All Out Adventures (23km). This is the actual trail head, but we still needed to navigate the duck ‘n dive past Steer Shed and into the Pecan Grove (26.9km).
The riding here along the valley floor is fast and flowy, and I must admit the trippy trail along the river’s edge via Acacia Meander (30.1km) is top of my personal pops on this section of the ride. At Ledges, you cross the road once more for the final couple of kays to the turn-off to Sungubala Eco Camp (32.8km).
Your legs will feel the climb back up to the plateau, but fortunately there are concrete strips on the steeper sections which ensures good traction. A troop of baboons guffawed at us as we cruised through the gates into the Eco Camp, which I took as permission to enjoy an ice cold, mid-day beer.
All and all, the Grotto Route makes for a testing and moderately technical 30km ride, most of it along purpose-built and well-groomed single-track. Expect a few steep and very gritty ascents, and a total elevation gain of more than 1000m (including the Sungubala climb). Half a dozen narrow, wooden bridges, some exposed traverses, sheer sandstone features, super-fast pedalling along the plateaus and long flowing downhills with big berms make it a world-class ride, for sure.
Later that afternoon I took the kids on the Gypsies Bend Trail section; this Green Route makes for an easy 14km single-track ride through valley grass veldt, following a similar route to the lower part of the Red Route. Cue acacia trees, a couple of stream crossings, whippy and tight corners, and superb views across the valley towards the majestic Berg. An easy elevation gain of 180m – mostly during the first part of the ride – makes it a great outing with less competent riders.
These ‘All Out Adventures’ Drakensberg Trails offer more than 150km of world-class riding on superb single track in a spectacular setting. The other main trails are Montusi Gorge – a relatively technical 20km ride on purpose-built track – boasts tougher grades and an elevation gain of 369m. This Blue Trail adds exposed traverses, bermed quad tracks, stream crossings and switchbacks, as well as stunning panoramas from Montusi Waterfall Cave and towards the Amphitheatre.
Finally, there’s the extremely technical 35km Berghouse Trail (or Purple Route) along groomed single-track on the opposite side of the valley. A tough elevation gain of 790mon long and very steep climbs – with exposed traverses, multiple switchbacks and technical descents – makes this a ride for fit and experienced riders only.
Best Time to Visit
Good year round destination though winters can get very cold. Warmest months are from December to February.
FAST FACTS BLOCK
|GRADING:||Intermediate to technical|
|DURATION:||2.5- 3 hours|
|START POINT:||Sungubala Eco Camp|
|GPS COORDS:||28°37’25.2″S / 28°57’53.4″E|
|TERRAIN:||90% Single-track; some gravel road|
|MAP:||Provided with permit purchase|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Purchase a bike pass at All Out Adventures or The Cavern|
|MUST DO EVENT:||RideTheBerg – www.ridetheberg.co.za|
|FACILITIES||Ablution facilities, Coffee Shop, Adventure Centre|
|CELL RECEPTION||Good reception along most of route|
|BEWARE OF:||Summer thunder storms – they can be epic in the Berg|
|LOCAL CONTACT:||Chris Mecklenborg – 072 386 1334|
How to Get There:
Start off along the N3 from Durban, then turn off onto the R74 via Winterton and Bergville. You will reach All Out Adventures 15-20min beyond Bergville, and from here it is a further 8km to Sungubala (the Eco Camp is 48km from Bergville).
Sungubala Eco Camp has various self-catering options www.sungubala.co.za